By John Whitesides and Joseph Ax WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden expanded his narrow leads over President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia on Friday, putting him on the verge of winning the White House three days after polls closed. Biden has a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state […]
White House in reach for Biden as he builds leads in Pennsylvania, Georgia
By John Whitesides and Joseph Ax
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden expanded his narrow leads over President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Georgia on Friday, putting him on the verge of winning the White House three days after polls closed.
Biden has a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines the winner, according to Edison Research. Winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes would put the former vice president over the 270 he needs to secure the presidency.
Biden would also win the election if he prevails in two of the three other key states where he held narrow leads on Friday: Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Like Pennsylvania, all three were still processing ballots on Friday.
As Biden inched closer to triumph, he was expected to address the nation on Friday evening, according to a person familiar with his plans. The remarks could be a victory speech; a Biden aide said he could be declared the winner within hours.
In both Pennsylvania and Georgia, Biden overtook Trump on the strength of mail-in ballots that were cast in urban Democratic strongholds including Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Hundreds of Democrats gathered outside Philadelphia’s downtown vote-counting site, wearing yellow shirts reading “Count Every Vote.” In Detroit, a crowd of Trump supporters, some armed, protested outside the counting location, waving flags and chanting, “Fight!”
With his re-election chances fading, Trump escalated his baseless attacks on the results, appearing at the White House on Thursday evening to falsely claim the election was being “stolen” from him.
A sense of grim resignation settled in at the White House on Friday, where the president was monitoring TV and talking to advisers on the phone. One adviser said it was clear the race was tilting against Trump, but that Trump was not ready to admit defeat.
His campaign is pursuing a series of lawsuits across battleground states, but legal experts described them as unlikely to succeed in altering the election outcome.
The campaign’s general counsel, Matt Morgan, asserted in a statement on Friday that the elections in Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania all suffered from improprieties and that Trump would eventually prevail in Arizona.
“This election is not over,” he said. “Biden is relying on these states for his phony claim on the White House, but once the election is final, President Trump will be re-elected.”
He also said the campaign expected to pursue a recount in Georgia, as it has said it will do in Wisconsin, where Biden won by more than 20,000 votes. A margin that wide has never been overturned by a recount, according to Edison Research.
Election officials across the nation have said they are unaware of any significant irregularities. Georgia officials said on Friday they expect a recount, which can be requested by a candidate if the final margin is less than 0.5%, as it currently is.
Biden expressed confidence on Thursday he would win and urged patience. In response to the idea that Trump might not concede, Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement on Friday, “The United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
GRAPHIC: How vote counting works – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/VOTECOUNT/azgvojjnjpd/media-embed.html
The close election has underscored the nation’s deep political divides, and if he wins Biden will likely face a difficult task governing in a deeply polarized Washington.
Republicans could keep control of the U.S. Senate pending the outcome of four undecided Senate races, including two in Georgia, and they would likely block large parts of his legislative agenda, including expanding healthcare and fighting climate change.
The presidential winner will confront a pandemic that has killed more than 235,000 people in the United States and left millions more out of work, and a country grappling with the aftermath of months of unrest over racism and police brutality.
In Pennsylvania, Biden moved ahead of Trump for the first time and had a lead of 9,746 votes by late Friday morning while in Georgia, he was 1,579 votes ahead. Both margins were expected to grow as additional ballots were tallied.
Biden, 77, would be the first Democrat to win Georgia since fellow Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992.
In Arizona, Biden’s lead grew slightly on Friday to 43,779 votes, and in Nevada his margin jumped to 20,552.
Pennsylvania, one of three traditionally Democratic states along with Michigan and Wisconsin that handed Trump his 2016 victory, had long been seen as crucial to the 2020 race, and both candidates lavished enormous sums of money and time on the state.
Trump, 74, has sought to portray as fraudulent the slow counting of mail-in ballots, which surged in popularity due to fears of exposure to the coronavirus through in-person voting.
States have historically taken time after Election Day to tally all votes, although in most presidential elections the gap between candidates has been big enough that television networks project the winner before counting formally ends.
Trump fired off several tweets in the early morning hours on Friday, repeating his unsubstantiated claims of fraud. “I easily WIN the Presidency of the United States with LEGAL VOTES CAST,” he said on Twitter, without offering any evidence that any illegal votes have been cast.
Twitter flagged the post as possibly misleading, something it has done to numerous posts by Trump since Election Day.
In an extraordinary assault on the democratic process from the White House on Thursday, Trump lambasted election workers and advanced unsupported allegations of rigged vote counts. Several networks cut away from his remarks to correct his misstatements in real time.
Biden, who earlier in the day urged patience as votes were counted, responded to Trump’s remarks on Twitter: “No one is going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever.”
Trump supporters, some carrying guns, ramped up their demonstrations against the process on Thursday night. In Arizona, Trump and Biden supporters briefly scuffled outside the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix.
In Philadelphia, police said they arrested one man and seized a weapon as part of an investigation into a purported plot to attack the city’s Pennsylvania Convention Center, where votes were being counted.
GRAPHIC: Where Biden and Trump stand on the issues – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/POLICY/ygdpzwarjvw/index.html
Multimedia U.S. election coverage: https://www.reuters.com/world/us-election2020
(Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Jarrett Renshaw; Writing by Joseph Ax and John Whitesides; Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell)